What is to give light must endure burning. ~Viktor Frankl
Every New Year I remember the remarkable story of a promising young psychotherapist named Viktor Frankl.
It was WWII. He was jewish. And he refused an opportunity to escape the Nazis.
He had obtained a passport – a golden ticket that would save his life and allow him to continue his groundbreaking work on the human search for meaning. He knew that with the Nazis, suffering – immense, crushing suffering – was coming.
But… could he leave his parents behind to travel that road alone?
No. No, he could not.
And so, he gave up his golden ticket. He remained and waited for what would come.
Ultimately Frankl was sent to Auschwitz, where he found meaning by counseling himself and his fellow prisoners through surviving the un-survivable. His experiences in the camps solidified what he had always theorized: life demands meaning.
When there is meaning, there is survival.
Time and again, he saw that those who had “something to live for” did just that.
One prisoner yearned to see his young son again. Another, a scientist, was driven to finish his life’s work.
Others who lacked such passion – such purpose – perished.
After the war, he continued to see that people who found a meaning in their struggles powered through them. They persevered where others who lacked purpose could not.
And this is how he determined that “[s]triving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”
This is all the more interesting at the dawn of each New Year, when we’re bombarded with messages that we should all be searching for “happiness.”
Books and seminars tell us to find our happiness with this secret formula or by repeating that affirmation ten times every morning. (Especially if you couple those affirmations with a $4,999 motivational course or by purchasing a $199 journal.)
Well-intentioned articles peddle the “top ten tips for finding happiness.”
Swindlers Infotainers proclaim that the key to unlocking our happiness is to earn more money or save time, which we’ll do if we join this group, or take that course, or buy their e-book/seminar/recording.
As we collectively yearn for a better time, too many have been wooed into the false sense that come 2023 we’ll feel that peace, and calm – and maybe even the happiness – that’s escaped us in 2022. Or 2021. Or 2020.
Frankl knew better. He knew that “happiness” is fleeting and vapid.
It’s the emotion that we feel after we’ve opened the perfect present, or lost the five pounds, or gotten the pretty dress. It’s fun while it lasts – so fun that some people chase that happiness dragon their whole lives.
But happiness is an emotion derived from receiving. It’s a selfish emotion, really. Primal. Instinctive.
Even animals experience happiness.
But humans are different; we look for more than happiness. We look for a reason. We look for a purpose in our lives.
We look for transcendence; a way to leave an imprint on the world that lasts long after we are gone.
A monument to our lives, well lived.
If happiness is taking, then purpose is giving – and it’s through the giving that we find contentment and satisfaction.
And, for many of us, the last few years have given us a way to find a higher purpose. That purpose has kept many of us going. It’s given some of us new life, new focus, new careers, new relationships.
We’ve endured (and continue to endure) emotional turmoil.
But still, we go on.
Because within this community that you are part of, there is a certainty of purpose. There is well-earned self-worth, a feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that our contribution is meaningful – if not downright essential.
In a few weeks, those who entered this new year looking for happiness and quick fixes will probably feel unfulfilled and disappointed. We’ll see more articles about people abandoning their New Year’s resolutions, and about depression, and about anxiety. We’ll see more op-eds about how this year is no better than the last.
But for you, this coming year – and every one thereafter – holds so much potential. Because we know our purpose. We’re not searching for meaning. We’re living it.
You’re living it.
So thank you for being part of a community – forged with shared values, shared energy, and shared hope – that has been the source of strength and motivation and meaning for so many. And that has fought and won many battles on behalf of people you’ll never know.
Your life is a blessing; the world is lucky to have you.
As am I.
Happy New Year, friend. May 2023 be your best yet.
Next week we will return to our traditional formal – a “pep talk” followed by a list of action items (“small deeds”) to take. This week, take a few extra days to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. We’ve done a lot, together.
I’m so, so proud.
I hope you are, too.
Happy New Year, much love – and rest up, friends, because there will be much to do in 2023.
P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.
P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.